It wasn't supposed to be this easy, was it?
Their reward: five days off, while the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves duke it out to see who will travel to Philly on Saturday to start the NLCS. Either team will be considered the underdog; with their win today, the Giants are up two games to one.
Back to Cincy. If the Reds thought that playing at home--in their friendly confines--would automatically bring them a different result than the two previous games, they were mistaken. Sadly mistaken.
And two of the culprits that defeated them in Philadelphia would show up to bring them down again before their hometown fans. Just as in Game Two, their defense was suspect, if not quite as disastrous. And just as in Game One, they ran into a terrific pitching performance, if not quite as superlative.
The Reds would be victimized by their defense in the top of the first. With runners on second and third and two outs, starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (who would give two runs, one earned in his five innings) coaxed Jayson Werth to hit a routine grounder to shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera's high throw pulled first baseman Joey Votto off the bag, allowing Placido Polanco to score the game's first run.
As it turned out, that run was the only run that Hamels would need. For some reason Hamels dominates the Reds lineup (statistically the best in the NL in 2010), even though they play in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball.
Hamels would go the distance, yielding only five hits and zero walks while racking up nine strikeouts. If it weren't for Roy Halladay's "no-no" in Game One, this would have easily been the best pitched game of the series. Halladay's treasure notwithstanding, Hamels' five-hit shutout ran his career record at the Ballpark to a remarkable 7-0 in 8 starts.
Of Hamels' masterpiece, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, not one who is easily impressed, allowed that "He was sharp, and I mean, he was good the whole nine innings." Understated? Perhaps. But coming from Manuel, it was almost a Shakespearean sonnet of praise and admiration.
It was good that Hamels brought his "A" game, as the Phillies bats only came alive for two runs on eight hits. Their second run came with two outs in the top of the fifth when Chase Utley got just enough of a Cueto offering to drive it one row deep into the right-center field seats.
The apparent homer wasn't without some controversy as the play was reviewed to ensure that fans did not cross over the wall to interfere with center fielder Drew Stubbs' path to the ball. After the umpires huddled, the home run ruling was upheld and Hamels had a second run to work with.
As it turned out, two runs was overkill for Hamels, who threw 82 of his 119 pitches for strikes. Indeed, he can savor his sterling effort, as he won't pitch for at least another week.
WHERE ARE THE BATS?
The 2010 Phillies are a very good hitting team, if not quite the fence busters of the last few years. Of course, when a team enjoys the type of games that Halladay and Hamels pitched, and the kind of youthful, self-destructive effort that plagued the Reds in Game Two, they did not need much offense.
Indeed, if you looked at the composite stats of the Phillies' starting eight, they don't resemble a team that just swept a series.
Shane Victorino: 3-13, .231, 2 R, 3 RBI
Placido Polanco: 1-9, .111. 1 R
Chase Utley: 3-11 ,273, 3 R, 4 RBI, 1 HR
Ryan Howard: 3-11, .273, 0 R, 0 RBI
Jayson Werth: 2-12, .167, 2 R, 1 RBI
Jimmy Rollins: 1-11, .091, 1 R
Raul Ibanez: 3-12, .250, 0 R, 0 RBI
Carlos Ruiz: 2-8, .250, 1 R, 1 RBI
Of course, the Reds were even less potent at the plate. With only 11 hits in the series, they set a record for least hits (ever) in a postseason series.
Was anyone here a baseball fan in the 1940s? If so, you may remember the St. Louis Cardinals team that won the pennant three straight years, 1942-44. The Phils are one round away from being the first NL team since then to match their "hat trick."
With the victory, Hamels improved his career postseason record to 6-3. The other members of H2O, you ask? Roy Oswalt is 4-0, and you may have heard that Halladay made his postseason debut last Wednesday. It was kind of successful.
The Philadelphia Phillies debuted as a franchise in 1883. Their sweep of the Reds was their first-ever postseason sweep. There's a lesson in there somewhere. If you live to be 127, great things will come to you.